For those days, I had been living among some beautiful stories and story tellers of Turtuk!
Somewhere my heart wishes that all those who wander must find their way here… here is some bits on Turtuk that might help…
The Turtuk calendar:
I will start with the Nauroz festival, the Balti new year :
21st March: The two teams of polo players and some stunning horses from Zanskar march amidst the apricot trees full of white flowers. The sight is breathtaking.The streets of Turtuk are filled with festivities and the kids and the men dressed in their Pathanis and rumaaal dance making their way to the polo ground! The sounds of shennai fill up the village and everyone rejoices over the coming of the new year.
April- May: the fields are prepared and the necessary herbs and vegetation is planted. Nothing eventful but everything happening around is beautiful to chill and watch and probably help the locals in the fields. In all, its a lot of farming and preparing for the coming tourist season that has now become an additional income for the locals who stay with the families in their home stays. The home stays can cost anything between Rs 300-Rs 700 a day (including place to sleep, breakfast and dinner.). My favourite places- Shayok guest house in Farol (mohammed bhai is full of lovely stories and yummy food)and Ismail home stay in Youl (this place feels like my home with my family now). There are also some guest houses as well as holiday camps but those can be quite expensive for me.
June-August: Summer is the time when life blooms back into action in Turtuk. During the summers, Turtuk becomes an ideal fruit country, bustling with energy and everyone out in their fields. This is also the time when the sheep, cows and horses are taken to the streams or naalas to feed on the fresh grass of the summers. Men usually take turns to go to the naalas/ streams for 5-6 days where their job includes counting and milking the cattle, make essentials like lassi, curd, cheese (churpi) and butter and bring back with them. An organised notebook is prepared to keep notes on whose cattle gave how much milk and its products. (of theirs and of the assigned neighbours or family’s). This continues into October first week when the gyas is ready to be cut and the fields are vacant to house all the animals.
This is a feast time for all when everything is in abundance. This is the time to climb trees and pluck fruits and eat your fill! Magpies breed during this time so you see many small-small ones learning to fly. This is also the only time they make their nests so that they can breed. In winters, they roam freely in that chilly cold.
When i reached in September, they said you have come after the most beautiful time is over. The villagers consider this the most fertile and the most beautiful part of the year.
September- October: For me is a special time, because i experienced Turtuk through this time… the shyok river bulging with energy, occasional rains (except this year’s epic rains), gyas with its pink flowers (buck wheat) in full bloom on the plateau like fields with magpies dancing in their full glory, the walnuts and apples are everywhere, kids climbing trees, filling their pockets with numerous last bloom of fruits and with their stone breaking open the fresh walnut fruits and apricot seed for the yummy nut inside, the homes geared up to prepare for the winters- drying food, doing repairs of their stone and mud homes, tending to their fields, soaking in the last few days of good sun. You often see donkeys carry load up the mountains and usually fighting for the same little small piece of grass even though they have the whole field to trespass into. Villagers have to intervene to separate them but its quite an experience to watch donkeys fight kicking each other with full intensity with their rears. So intense and so ridiculous!This is also some of the last days for the men to go to the streams to tend on the cattle. A trip to the naala (stream) to bring back the cattle is priceless i am told. I will go when i will go!
The harsh winters, November to mid march: When i met Salim bhai, he said “yahan ki khoobsoorti ki bhi koi keemat nahin aur sardi ke dino mein yahan ki mushkilon ki bhi koi keemat nahin”. ( the beauty here is priceless and so are the difficulties of the harsh winters here). The energy with which everyone prepares for the coming winters cannot go unnoticed. The winters are all leafless trees amidst the white of the snow! People chew on dried fruits like khurmaani all the time and spend most of their time indoor around the thap (bukhaari or a fireplace where you can cook and warm up yourself with. This is attached with a chimney to push out the smoke). The potatoes and some other veggies are buried deep in the earth to keep them fresh and all the necessary herbs are dried up for winters. The children hardly go to school and each one tries to soak in as much sun. Ironically, Farol stays sun- shadowed for 40 days in a row when the sun strolls just behind the mountains every single day, never making even a brief appearance. People often go to the edge of the plateau of farol to feel whatever warmth they can extract. Youl too gets about 2 hours of sun when the sun shifts between the two mountains facing K2. This is also an experience of community life in harsh conditions i wish to live. This is the actual coming together of people of the mountains when they are geared up to deal with all that nature has to offer.
Learning a little Balti:
I have learning Balti quite fast and they say if i stay here a month, i will be full Balti and then i must make a home here and stay forever!
i feel i am so close to Pakistan i can touch it. I imagine myself sending messages down the river shayok and someone receiving it (being so close to a country that has fascinated you deeply, makes you imagine all sorts of things). i also feel the world out there is as beautiful and not much different from where i stand and with the little Balti Zabaan training, now i will be so at home in Baltistan or Gilgit.
i have set out this dream and someday this too will happen.
BALTI to English: (all sounds as i heard them, there are hardly any people in the village to confirm the English or hindi spellings so i went with what i understood after having these words repeated 3-4 times. Whoever can correct me, please do… that will be quite amazing. All mailers from gilgit and baltistan and skardu, most welcome, i will visit you someday and talk in balti i know a little little now)
Greeting: As-salamu alaykum!
Answer to greeting: Wa alaikumu s- salam!
( a greeting like this sets the tone right in the beginning, especially when someone comes to you and says, hello how are you? And you say As-salamu alaykum. The look on their faces… priceless! And what you hear back is an almost mute and surprised- “waaaaaaa alilkumu” with a broad smile! When you walk away after this greeting, the eyes will follow you for sure and that’s exactly the time when you turn around and break into a huuuge smile! )
Then from here on you can begin your round of friendship!
(being a proper muslim village, there are some rules that are best followed. one of them is how should males deal with the verrrrry shy women there. Be very gentle with your greeting and if they don’t respond, that is not because they don’t like you there but that they are too shy to speak with you. If someone sees them talking to a male from outside, they will have a lot of answering to do. Ask them before taking their photos and share the space in the photographs so they feel more comfortable. And please don’t come back to turtuk with the photographs of the women of turtuk on your t- shirts. Some tourists did that and then everyone decided to stop having fun with the tourists. We behave well and we are sure to experience the magic of Turtuk.)
See you again: nga tang yang thuet
Go safe: kuli aso
I am going: nga gore. If you are going home, you can say, nga nang gore, if you are going to the main road, you can say, nga lam gore.
Thank you: yaa ju/ aachuu
Sorry: baksheesh. Even the other person will say baksheesh. In this case, you both have to touch each other’s hand. Both for forgiveness or to forgive! Once hands touch, all is peace and forgotten!
During the days when it just didnt stop raining, I practiced poi spinning and made many friends-sakina, aneeza- 5 years, mohina, alphina- 6, irfan 10 and many more. Amidst the gyas fields, about 20 of us played in the rain “ring around the roses”, chain- chain and many such for about three hours. When anyone asked weren’t we cold, we all screamed NO!!! We were the outlaws! When boys joined in, they made the game rowdy and one of them hit Sakina. She cried so much, we all asked him to say sorry so game could continue. When he said “baksheesh” and put out his hand and sakina touched his hand in acceptance and said “baksheesh” to accept his apology, it was like a thousand verses were sung in the air. Such a beautiful language and such a beautiful gesture. Just as simple to let things go!
Game got dispersed and so did we.
Don’t worry: phikir maves
Hand shake: laktung
How are you? Thek thek yora?
I am fine: thek yora or even yaa ju
Please to meet you: nga yana thukse that
Please: chermo ( an extra long sound of it guarantees melting hearts)
What is your name? : eerie ming pu chin?
My name is ritika/ akala.: ni ming pu Ritika. or akala or sakina. i used to say all sorts of random new names everytime!
Your village is very beautiful: iti yul pu maala gashinang
Your home is very beautiful: iti nang pu maala gashinang
I often used the term maala gashinang which means very beautiful. And in turtuk, with those people and that landscape, you can only find yourself repeating this phrase over and over and over again!
Every little word, gesture that comes from the Baltis feels like a present and a present (tohfa in urdu)is called Phyak tap in balti! Their love is phyak tap for me!
FOOD AND KITCHEN:
milk tea with sugar: Cheeni ch’aa
ch’aa time with Apo ali and Mubeena
Syaha ch’aa: tea that was made in olden days before sugar/ milk/ butter/ salt tea was introduced to baltis. This was made by boiling the thorny flesh of rose plant stem that lent a beautiful red colour to the boiling water. This the baltis consider as “majboori ch’aa” ( more on chai/ tea in first part of the blog)
Wheat flour: bakhpe
Gyas (buck wheat) flour: tarma
Out of tarma they make: khisir: buck wheat pan cake
Out of tarma they make:xan: buck wheat steamed cake made in to round balls and usually served with darsamik, which is a curd based cold curry (raita) flavoured with a local herb called samik (growth with purple flowers). This could be an acquired taste, i loved it from the very first taste of it.
Samik: a local herb
the making of xan: ashe and the other relatives came to help her prepare a meal for about 17 guests who were to come for lunch together and wished to taste local cuisine. Ashe’s brother’s wife is a Xan expert. She carefully mixed the buch wheat flour in boiling water and kept mixing till it was completely cooked. Xan is usually old people’s food who need soft things that they dont have to chew on and is usually eaten in the night.
Darsa: curd/ lassi
The get together for which we created an impromptu seating system:
Local grinding machine: Ranthak. Grinder ( ranthak boo), the container to put grains: choros. The sattu that they grind in these chakkis or grinders is amazingly good for both health and soul.
Lid of vessel: zang- e- kha
Bale: balti thukpa. Soup with wheat balls and veggies and specific herbs like shotto.
Will you have tea?: ch’aa thungera?
No i wont have. : thung met
Yes i will have: thunget
I will eat food: nga zan thunget
i am full/ i had enough: drangs
very tasty: maala yzumo
last two sentences said together makes a balti heart reaaaaaallllyy happy! Say it often! Feel it even more often!
Some moments from my kitchen time: most of my kitchen time was spent with Apo ali and kids and my conversations in the evenings with friends, family and neighbours. Ashe was always zooming in and out of kitchen finishing many chores.
Fields: ying (said with yz sound. If someone can help me with writing various syllables, it will help others a lot)
Feeling cold: grangset
Feeling hot: tronbo
The mountain from where you see k2 on the left: sangzar
If we walk up for about an hour to the waterfalls, we see k2 and on very clear days, we see the two peaks just as we see in the maps, the tall and the shorter identical one. I want to see K2 from Turtuk and i want to see K2 from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Here, i was in the rains, waiting to see it for the first time… clouds will clear when they have to clear!
Walnut: taaga ( the joy of breaking open fresh walnut is something else. Beware of taking off the fresh green layer from your mouth… the lips will be burnt black.
apricot/ khurmaani : Phading
Small birds/ sparrows: beu
My wooden bird earrings all the villagers called: shing beu
4: yee (said with yz sound)
14:chubyee( y said with yz sound)
15: Chog- gaa
Now just by adding “na” in between the multiples of 10 and first 9 numbers you can make the numbers:
21: nishu na chik
27: nishu na dun
Now, the multiples of ten
70:nishu sum nachu ( nachu here means, after nishu sum)
80:nishuyee (y said with yz sound)
90: nishuyee nachu (nachu here means, after nishuyee)
So, more examples:
63: nishusum na sum
102: igia n anis
Multiples of 100:
1000: tong chik
So now for other multiples of 1000:
6000: tong druk
8000: tong yat
10000: tong chu
This will really help you at the market spaces and the home stays and guest houses to understand the costing.
If you see it is also quite easy to memorise these… you can throw in some balti numbers while conversing with the older folks or while counting the number of kids you are playing with… this will take your experience to the crazily happy level when everyone will start throwing numbers at you to practice on!
Some tongue twisters:
Kha- month (normal tone)
Khaa: snow (said in a relaxed tone)
a-gaa: 5 (where g sounds like k)
kha (said very fast): lid. My favourite in this regard was pressure- e- kha. Which means the lid of the pressure cooker. The people in turtuk are very proud of their pressure cookers and say that the people in baltistan are still waiting for them. Pressure cookers are usually a favourite present from the baltis of india to the baltis of Pakistan!
PEOPLE AND RELATIONSHIPS:
Children: phru ( younger kids)
Old man:apo (grandfather)
Old woman: api (grandmother)
Uncle: momo ( mother’s brother)/ kaka
Aunty/ older sister kind of relationship: nene/ ashe
Eldest son: saama
Mother’s younger sister: machoong. I invariable became ritika machoong to most kids!
Boo: young boy
Bongo: young girl
Some of my favourite words/ phrases:
Kho bhuget: we are going to roam around. Almost like an announcement.Best said when you go for a walk with the kids.
Boo tak tak bongo nooru: boys are brats, girls are nice! This phrase was used mostly with the rowdy boys who acted soooper smart and wanted to harass girls! When i would say this, they would all start laughing and become friends. And if they messed with the girls, or irritated them or hit them, i would say “dhoonget”, which means “i will hit you”, to which they used to laugh a little more and become better friends, correcting my pronunciation!
Phrongo: small (can be used for things/ people)
Chogo: big (can be used for things/ people)
Baasot: middle ( can be used for things/ people)
Eg. We are a family of three kids. So my sister who is the eldest among us three will be chogo bongo, my brother in the middle will be baasot boo and me the youngest so i will be phrongo bongo… these are my terms put together but the villagers will understand what you are saying.
when anyone asked me who has been teaching me all this balti… i would say, Phrongo Phrongo Phru… little little kids!
Yang zir: repeat what you said
Nga tus: warning: main tujhe chodoonga nahin: i wont leave you. ( i said that to the kids when they got rowdy, the boys)
Nga khuret: i swear
Shishik: dirty. I told this to kids who never cleaned their nose!
Hamarkos: not understood
This one is priceless. So one night in turtuk and i was taken to a house where everyone (all males – about 35 men) had collected to watch tv and share with me the video of the nauroze festival that is celebrated on 21st March every year. Its celebration time! Men dance on streets, all local musical instruments are pulled out, sounds of shenai echo in the streets of turtuk and just when you are soaking it all in, the grand polo match begins between the white flowers of many apricot trees. This i have just experienced through the videos shot by Salim bhai and it already got my heart pumping in a wish to experience this live… soon… very soon.
There is another amazing thing Salim bhai has done… when i entered that room to watch news and videos of norose, Shrek was playing on the screen, in about 30 secs i realised something strange about the sound. The baltis were laughing uncontrollably and suddenly i heard a phrase from Shrek’s mouth “ harkos… hamarkos?” (understood or not understood)… it all fell in place… this shrek was dubbed in balti and what was most fascinating was that salim bhai did all those many sounds himself keeping each sound modulation, timing, synching in mind! And with my little knowledge of balti, i was soon in splits too… the film is seriously funny and seriously well- done! What caught my attention the most was the finer nuances he captured of the donkey… there are soooo many donkeys in turtuk, you can hardly miss this relationship!
Aaah… the princess was called “raj kumaari sakina” by the way… sakina is a common balti name and fits the whole balti shrek theme perfectly!
I say brilliant work Salim bhai! And thank you for this entertainment!
Another amazing episode needs to be told here and that is of aziz bhai… the man whose voice i will never hear but who makes me laugh and i make him laugh!
I met Aziz bhai for the first time at home. home is Ismail bhai’s kitchen, right next to thap or the mobile fireplace that is both a room heater as well as cooking equipment. When apo ali was there, he would always sit there and in his absence, i would warm myself up right next to it. I was always in the kitchen when i was home and i loved spending time with everyone who came to that house. i figured they will all enter the kitchen straight away.
One such evening, apo ali had gone to the mosque for the 7 pm and 8 pm namaaz. His son Ismail bhai and his brothers/ cousins/ friends all joined in for a usual post dinner get together and chat up session on chaa and fire… i invariably became part of such meets… one new face came this time… laughing at the funniest things, listening to everything intently, very participative and yet very quiet. Suddenly i said something that i could never think and say… when ismail bhai said that today its a good meeting day, i said “yes, full power but i still haven’t heard aziz bhai’s voice”… thats when i was told rather matter of fact like that aziz bahut gazab sunte, bol nahin sakte ( aziz hears remarkably well but can’t talk)i looked at his face and he nodded in happy approval… i said to aziz bhai… “bade chuppe rustam ho” and he laughed so beautifully!
After that we struck a bond. We became friends. His laughter is his wit and i love that silent humour we shared. He would come spend time with me… and at such occasions, without words we interacted effortlessly and laughed so much! In few words, i realised just as much language is needed to communicate, with someone so alive and happy, its not needed at all!
Aziz bhai (though younger than me, i like to call him bhai) is my favourite! Period!
So, coming back to the night i watched shrek and then the videos of Nauroz. Among the whole big group of men, aziz bhai was also there and we were laughing at balti shrek together. Then on seeing the polo players in the video, i asked the men who is the best polo player among this group. It was unanimous… AZIZ!!!
My friend AZIZ… i looked t him in complete awe and proud happiness! He was as proud but smiled that goofy smile again and he appeared to be the coolest guy i know in that one moment!
I don’t have a photo of him or with him but his face is etched in my system and i will go laugh with him again… i know!
i will go here again and will probably keep going.
Turtuk is indeed a very special place for me now and i wish travelers can find their way into this beautiful land without “telling people how to live” and without “changing how they live” imposing as little of themselves and accepting whatever and whoever they are, bridging gaps between the various worlds and connecting their skill and knowledge to the world without encouraging a commercial change or discouraging their indigenous ways, trying to live just for a few days, may be, how they live and accept gracefully their love, hospitality and ever- welcoming smiles, without doubt or questions.
Turtuk feels like another home!
and this is what home looks like…
Patther ( stone) Karim, as he is lovingly called by many. To that he laughs and says, “karim hoon, patther nahin. Patther hota toh pather kaise taraashta!” (i am Karim, not stone, if i was stone, how would i be able to carve it)
what he carves is magic in stone. I could only see some broken pieces that were left with him, rest go away to many people and many homes without a trace!
i had an opportunity to spend time with a lovely soul like him who says, “kam dena gham nahi dena” (give me less but dont give me mess/ grief). A master artist and the best halwai (sweet maker/ small hotel cook) in Turtuk, he is proud of the mutton samosas he makes!
He has to be good at this… it runs in the family!
Karim bhai is born to the legacy of Roosi Mohammed and his stories i tell in the next post!